War in Ukraine Here are three scenarios for the continuation

War in Ukraine: Here are three scenarios for the continuation of the conflict Le Journal du dimanche

Almost a year after the start of the Russian military operation against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, what are the possible developments of the conflict in the coming months? The difficulty of prediction is particularly pronounced in this conflict, as there were numerous military, diplomatic and strategic “surprises”.

On the one hand, the combat readiness of the Ukrainian armed forces, the support of the EU and the United States in Kyiv, the logistical and tactical difficulties of the Russian armed forces surprised Moscow. On the other hand, the resistance of Russian business to sanctions, the scale of Ukrainian migration to Europe, the blocking of UN bodies and the measured support of China, India and several countries from Africa to Russia surprised Western law firms.

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Three major scenarios are currently possible.

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Scenario 1: A clear Russian setback

Militarily, Moscow’s forces would launch a new offensive on Kyiv, as in February 2022, but also on the Donbassin (the Donbass, much of which is still under Ukrainian control today) and the Kherson province in an attempt to get in the eyes of the Russian population achieve resounding success.

But these attacks would fail. Russia would lose many men and much of the four Ukrainian provinces illegally annexed to the Russian Federation in September 2022. It would find that its original strategic goal (regime change in Kyiv) had failed. Ukraine would recapture Russian strongholds in the Don Basin and advance into Crimea.

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Several factors could consecrate this Russian defeat. Domestically, the mobilization and training of reservists would encounter several limitations: further flight of the mobilized personnel from Russian territory; inability of the Russian command to effectively train new recruits; depletion of the Russian defense-technological and industrial base (BITD); growing impact of Western sanctions on the Federation’s budget; Crisis in the ruling circles of Russia, especially at the level of the Ministry of Defense.

In Ukraine, the realization of this scenario is subject to several conditions: the resilience of the Ukrainian presidency to the rigors of war, its ability to win the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2023, the continuation of American military aid and the European Union at levels consistent with the inevitable Consumption of war material on the battlefields is compatible, and the ability to hold multiple fronts at once. Ukrainian Chief of Staff Valery Zalouzhny in December expressed a number of wishes: 300 tanks, 600-700 infantry fighting vehicles, 500 howitzers for victory.

Finally, at the international level, this scenario assumes that Russia loses the position of strength bestowed on it by rising energy prices in 2022. This would require its customers to find alternative sources of supply, which they have already started to do.

The horizon of this favorable scenario for Ukraine would be the opening of a ceasefire and then peace negotiations.

However, if the Russian defeat is comprehensive, domestic unrest could cripple the Russian leadership and wreak havoc in Moscow, robbing the country of its ability to truly participate in negotiations. For such negotiations to be successful, therefore, would require Russia both to consider the war permanently lost and to maintain an effective chain of command. Two terribly difficult points would be the fate of Crimea and the future of Ukraine’s candidacy for NATO. All in all, this scenario would be the projection of successful Ukrainian counter-offensives from August to October 2022.

Scenario 2: Tangible success for Russia

The opposite scenario would consist of a series of military successes by Russia from the end of the winter. For example, Russia would manage to recapture most of the Kherson province, directly threaten Kyiv by pushing into its suburbs from Belarus, and continue a significant southwestward advance towards Odessa. The realization of this scenario would result from several hypotheses, the main of which is the human and material exhaustion of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

On the Russian side, this would initially require the success of several unsuccessful actions. In particular, the mobilization carried out in autumn 2022 would be effective in terms of training and used tactically correctly. And Russian logistics chains would resist supply difficulties on three major fronts (north to Kyiv, east to Donbass, and south to Kherson). The Russian army already has logistics centers more than 80 km from the front line, a distance beyond the range of HIMARS, and has learned lessons from the Ukrainian counter-offensive.

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These achievements would result in a clear Russian victory in Ukraine: the illegal annexations in the east would be consolidated, the government in Kyiv (weakened and possibly overthrown by the Russian offensive) would emerge from the peace negotiations and be more or less openly pro-Russian, the west of the country would claim strong autonomy with Polish support, etc. Russia’s strategic goal would be achieved: to have a buffer zone with NATO.

On the Ukrainian side, this worst-case scenario could gain credibility if several developments are observed: attrition of the armed forces, insufficient number of new recruits, excessive diversity of international arms shipments leading to difficulties in coordinating the different systems; Weakening of Zelenskyi’s presidency ahead of parliamentary elections in autumn 2023 under pressure from a “peace party” or, on the contrary, from nationalists demanding stronger power; Inability to sustain and increase Western support, for example, due to strategic maximalism aimed at Russia’s complete defeat, exposure of embezzlement, or simply “tiredness” of Western opinions and their willingness to refocus on domestic issues.

At the international level, this scenario assumes that prices and exports of Russian energy products to Asia (primarily China and India) will remain the same; a pricing strategy by the gas powers; a mobilization of Russian diplomatic networks to show that the country is isolated only to the west; strong support from China in the face of American influence; a loss of influence of the most pro-Ukraine governments in the EU, particularly in Northern Europe (Finnish parliamentary elections in February) and in Poland (general elections in autumn 2023). Such a scenario would be favored by a crisis in Taiwan or the Middle East, which would draw the attention of the United States, already highly polarized in its domestic politics.

Scenario 3: A conflict that has become bogged down

A third way of developing this conflict could be characterized by the inability of the two protagonists to gain the upper hand over the other over a period of several years.

It would take the form of a stabilization (violent and murderous) of the main front lines in their current positions, but regular fighting around minor towns, road junctions, river locks or bridges. For example, Russian forces may be tempted to resume the offensive from the north towards Kyiv with limited success and focus their efforts on consolidating those parts of Donbass they control or can control.

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For its part, Ukraine may seek to shift its advantage south of Kherson to threaten the Crimean bastion on the August 2023 horizon. Far from it, this scenario excludes intense combat, changes in control areas, and does not limit success on either side. But the overall balance of the conflict would not change as Russia continues to control 15%-20% of Ukraine’s territory in key areas (Crimea, Donbass, Kharkiv region) and Ukraine is proving its ability to resist in the long term.

Several factors could conspire to bring about this situation. A “plateau” could be reached in Western military aid to Ukraine due to the state of stocks and the type of weapons sent to the front. The Ukrainian combat readiness could remain without the spectacular effects of the late summer of 2022 due to a “learning curve” on the Russian side, especially in the articulation between the different armies and the other forces (Wagner, Kadyrovtsy militias).

On the Russian side, this violent status quo could materialize due to the structural limitations of the military instrument that will manifest themselves in 2022: tactical rigidity, poor logistics, stretching of fronts and supply chains, limitations in human resources, lying culture in the administrations, etc.

Exogenous factors could lead to military and diplomatic decay. Neither of the two protagonists is able to persuade their own population and alliance network to negotiate on the basis of the current military balance of power. No undeniable success was achieved for Russia; For Kyiv, territorial integrity needs to be restored. For Vladimir Putin, starting negotiations would be an admission of failure and would endanger him. For Volodymyr Zelenskyy, getting involved in discussions would be a waiver that would result in him losing the very broad support he enjoys today, both internally and externally: another leadership would have to be used, which would probably be less effective because of the sunk costs Compromises would be this war.

Under this option, in 2023 Ukraine would become a new unresolved conflict of the post-Soviet space, but on a large scale. This would not prevent an escalation of hostilities, particularly against civilians or prisoners, quite the opposite.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.